Rally from 29 down falls short

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Christo­pher Dempsey Christo­pher Dempsey: cdempsey@den­ver­ or @chrisadempsey

brook­lyn, n.y. » With 13.8 sec­onds left, the Nuggets were star­ing at a chance to tie the game — if they could just in­bound the ball.

But Jameer Nel­son’s pass in­tended for Ja­mal Mur­ray sailed high and out of bounds. Brook­lyn in­bounded their pass cleanly on the en­su­ing pos­ses­sion, got fouled and made two free throws to push the lead to five with 12.7 sec­onds to go.

It was enough to even­tu­ally get out with a 116-111 vic­tory Wed­nes­day night at the Bar­clays Cen­ter. But there was noth­ing nor­mal about how those two teams got to that point.

The Nets nearly lost a 29-point lead. No play­ers in the Nuggets locker room could re­mem­ber ral­ly­ing from that kind of deficit on any level in their basketball lives even to “al­most” win. There were more than a few peo­ple in at­ten­dance at the arena that thought they would com­plete an im­prob­a­ble come­back. Fu­til­ity knows no bounds when the Nets are in­volved. They nearly had their most heinous chap­ter yet. But the Nets sur­vived. All the Nuggets were left hold­ing was a lot of what-ifs and had-we-dones.

“The les­son must be learned,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Too many times this year, we build our­selves these huge deficits and ex­pend so much en­ergy get­ting back in the game that we have noth­ing left to win the game.”

Malone had a unique seat from which he watched the ma­jor­ity of the sec­ond half — the locker room. He ar­gued ve­he­mently for a trav­el­ing call with 7:43 in the third. All he got was a per­sonal foul call on point guard Em­manuel Mu­diay. The com­bi­na­tion of dis­ap­point­ment in how his team was play­ing to that point and in the non­call sent him over the top. Two tech­ni­cal fouls later, he was headed to the locker room.

“Let’s be hon­est, I was just re­ally frustrated with how we were play­ing,” Malone said. “All those ref­er­ees — Ja­cyn (Goble), Der­rick (Stafford), Brian (Forte), they have a very tough job, they do a great job. I was just try­ing to fight for my guys. … Hop­ing by get­ting thrown out our guys would show some fight, give them a spark.” It did. But things got worse first. Malone left with his team down 21. With 5:56 to play in the third quar­ter, the Nuggets were down 29, 92-63. Then things changed.

“We was get­ting em­bar­rassed,” for­ward Wil­son Chan­dler said. “When your back is against the wall you’ve got to do some­thing. At the time we had noth­ing to lose.”

So the Nuggets started putting up nu­mer­ous shots. And many started to fall. The Nuggets went on a 36-11 run from 5:56 in the third to 4:25 in the fourth when Ken­neth Faried’s hook shot fell. The Nets were sud­denly the team mak­ing the mis­takes, and the Nuggets climbed back into things. When Chan­dler hit a 3-pointer with 16 sec­onds left, the Nuggets, who never led in the game, were down just two (111-109). But Brook­lyn scored five of the game’s last seven points to es­cape.

“We took a punch, two punches, maybe five punches and we got off the floor and fin­ished it out,” Nets coach Kenny Atkin­son said.

Be­cause the Nets did, it forced the Nuggets to swal­low 17 more turnovers con­verted into 27 points. The Nets had 61 per­cent of their first-half points (42-of-68) come in the paint. The Nuggets al­lowed 22 fast-break points. Those are the things that sting. Those over­shad­owed huge games from Chan­dler (27 points, 15 re­bounds) and Nikola Jo­kic (14 points, 11 re­bounds).

“As NBA play­ers and coaches, we’re not per­form­ers, we’re com­peti­tors,” Malone said. “There’s a big dif­fer­ence. I don’t want to see guys per­form. I want to see guys com­pete. We have a lot of per­form­ers out there right now. For­get that, I don’t care if you make a mis­take, miss a shot — com­pete. That is the essence of what be­ing a Den­ver Nugget has to be mov­ing for­ward.”

Al Bello, Getty Im­ages

The Nuggets’ Jameer Nel­son scores against the Nets at the Bar­clays Cen­ter in Brook­lyn, N.Y., on Wed­nes­day.

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